“I don’t think there’s too much better advice than to live day by day. I used to live for a lot of other things. I’d live for the next time I got on set or I’d live for my next audition. I don’t live that way anymore. My priorities have changed. You aren’t the same person after you go through something like this. Family and friends are way more important to me than success in acting. Some people accused God of giving me cancer, I said, “no, He didn’t give me cancer, He’s helping me through it.” In an illness like this, you have to come to grips with death because you don’t know if you’re going to live through it. I was sad, but ready to go if God wanted to take me. I’m glad He didn’t because I got to see my first granddaughter born last month!”
I had the pleasure of interviewing film and television actor, Gary Ray Moore. Moore is best known for his role of Jack Warton on House of Cards. He was recently awarded the Stephanie Digeno Courage Award by the Asheville Film Festival for defeating his difficult battle with Lymphoma.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I grew up in the Chicago area as a stage actor. The Goodman Theatre was one of my earliest acting class memories. I went on to some challenging Improv training at Second City and then, when I moved to San Francisco, I started training for TV and film work.
Can you share the story of how you became ill, and what you did to not let it stop you?
I had just finished my first TV pilot of a new show I had written and starred in called, “Rock of Ages.” It was about mid-April 2017 and I began to have a nagging cough. It was pollen season though so I didn’t think much about it. One day I coughed up a little blood in the sink, I had never done that so that concerned me. I went to a doctor who said it was just irritation from coughing so much and sent me home with some antibiotics. The next few days I kept coughing up more and more blood until one day I coughed up a lot. I called a nurse who suggested I go to the emergency room right away. They did a CT scan, then I saw a pulmonologist who showed me a tumor in my right airway. He sent me to a surgeon who said I had to have this out right away so I did. About 2 weeks later I was in an oncologist’s office where the doctor spelled out to me that I had a rare aggressive T Cell Anaplastic Large Cell Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and it was stage 4. I was also told I didn’t have long to live if immediate treatments didn’t start right away. My oncologist sent me directly to the hospital for my PICC line and first chemo treatment. This all happened so fast and I really wasn’t feeling bad so it was very confusing to me. I trusted my oncologist with her plan of six chemo treatments because she was a specialist and knew exactly what I had and how to combat it. I made up my mind I was going to fight as hard as I could.
Can you tell us about the accomplishments you have been able to make despite the cancer that you were battling?
Some wise advice was given me when I first was diagnosed, and that was to live day by day and, when you can’t do that, live moment by moment. So I counted every day I lived longer to be an accomplishment. What hurt me more than the cancer was watching my wife and family deal emotionally with my illness. I wanted to keep living for them and help others struggling with cancer. Once I knew exactly what I had, I decided to go public with it and I started doing videos and posts about how I was fighting — some days good, some days not so good. About a week after my last chemo, I was still bald from the chemo which gave me a new look as an actor. I saw a casting for a film’s bad guy. I took a quick picture of myself and sent it to the casting director. They cast me right away and I was on set doing more than I probably should have done, but having a blast! I was opposite Tommy Flanagan (Braveheart; Sons of Anarchy) who was really nice to me and signed some autographs for my nurses who were big fans of him. The movie is called Legal Action and will be out this fall.
What advice would you give to other people who are struggling with a life-threatening illness?
I don’t think there’s too much better advice than to live day by day. I used to live for a lot of other things. I’d live for the next time I got on set or I’d live for my next audition. I don’t live that way anymore. My priorities have changed. You aren’t the same person after you go through something like this. Family and friends are way more important to me than success in acting. Some people accused God of giving me cancer, I said, “no, He didn’t give me cancer, He’s helping me through it.” In an illness like this, you have to come to grips with death because you don’t know if you’re going to live through it. I was sad, but ready to go if God wanted to take me. I’m glad He didn’t because I got to see my first granddaughter born last month!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
When you think back on your life, you realize just how many people have helped you along the way. If I had to boil it down, I’d have to say my mom was my greatest fan and never gave up on me and was always there to pay for the next acting class or headshots. I was so glad to take her into my house the last three years of her life and take care of her. She passed away in 2016. I’d have to say my wife has always encouraged me and helped me. I learned that some cancer patients lose their spouses because they can’t deal with their illness. My wife never left my side and was constantly caring for me.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’ve realized that you really can’t understand how someone feels with cancer unless you’ve been through it. I’ve had many family and friends who have gone through cancer and I always felt awkward around them, not knowing what to say. A cancer patient really starts seeing who their real friends are very quick. So I tried to keep my sense of humor and joined a great Facebook support group for others all around the world who were going through what I was going through. We would constantly share back and forth about medicines and different tests they were doing to us. I always tried to make them laugh at what I was going through. I’ve always enjoyed making others laugh through my acting but now I was using a different medium. Some other good advice I got was to “don’t waste your pain.” Use your pain to help others. I would offer my help to others because I’d remind them that I’ve played a doctor on TV.
Can you share “5 things I wish people understood/knew about people battling cancer” and tell us why.
1. It can get very lonely being a cancer patient. Reach out to someone going through it and tell them you are there for them. Pray for them and tell them you’re praying for them. I felt those prayers. Go visit them.
2. It’s boring staying at home or in the hospital. Get cancer patients an electronic pad or media gift card to rent films or TV shows that they will enjoy. Pay for their cable bill and max it out with all the movie channels.
3. Normal foods start to lose their flavor with the different treatments. Find out what they are liking now and get them plenty of it. I liked sour stuff because I could still taste that sensation. Get them something to snack on during chemo treatments. I used to eat some pretzels and drink ginger ale. I loved getting restaurant gift cards because when I felt good enough to go out, I could get what I felt like eating.
4. It’s cold during chemo treatments and generally everywhere because you aren’t feeling well. Get cancer patients some nice blankets to take with them to doctor visits and treatments. Also they will probably lose their hair and that’s really cold so get them some great hats or knit them a fun beanie. I had a nurse make one for me and that was pretty cool.
5. I’m sure there are rich cancer patients out there, but I never met any of them. If you can write a cancer patient a check, then do it. I was out of work for over 6 months. I was dealing with disability, insurance, and regular bills for living. If you can take over some bills for them, do that. If you don’t have money to share, then help them with every day stuff like picking up groceries or mowing their lawn. I guarantee you that they don’t feel like doing that stuff.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
A man who went through his child committing suicide said this, “You don’t know how much you need God until God is all you have.” I learned that is true.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
As I said, I’m from Chicago. I grew up going to Wrigley Field and am a huge Chicago Cubs fan. If the Lord took me home last year, I had at least lived long enough to see the Cubs win a World Series in 2016. If he were still living, I’d say I would love to have lunch with Ernie Banks. Two of the Cubs players were an inspiration to me because they both survived cancer and went on to contribute to their team; Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo. Because he led the Cubs to the World Series win, I would say I’d love to have that lunch with the coach, Joe Maddon.
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Originally published at medium.com